Friday, September 11, 2009

How do I make a simple mushroom sauce?

As Fall is creeping up on us, and as temperatures start to cool down a bit, we might start looking for the heartier fare of colder times. I like to think of mushrooms as the "gateway ingredient", and now happens to be a great time to get your hands on some.

We're at the tail end of the chanterelle season, and slipping into porcini (which actually grow well around here) and even truffles if you've got the coin. But it seems like people shy away from funghi for a few reasons. 1) They have the reputation of being expensive. and 2) failed attempts to extract good flavor from the mushroom at hand.

Let's lay these concerns to rest. First, yes, mushroom can cost a pretty penny, but keep in mind that they are very lightweight in nature, and when prepared properly, a little bit will go a long way.

For making them tasty. It's really easy. We're gonna make a sauce that I put on pasta, but would be delicious over fish or meat as well.

Mushroom Sauce

6-8 oz Mushrooms of your choice, Single variety or mixed, sliced thinly.
2 Shallots, chopped finely <- the shallots should be about the size of golf balls, if they're huge, use less.
1 clove Garlic
1/4 cup Mushroom stock (any stock will do though)
1 tbsps White wine
2 tbsps Fresh thyme, chopped
Vegetable Oil and Butter for sauteing.

1. In a saute pan, heat equal part butter and oil over medium high heat. Saute the mushrooms until nicely browned.
2. Set aside the mushrooms and lower the heat to medium. In the same butter/oil mixture, sweat the shallots until translucent. Add the garlic and stir just long enough to extract the aroma.
3. Return the mushrooms the the pan and add the stock and wine. Simmer until the sauce thickens and finish with generous pat of butter (1/2 to 1 tablespoon) and the thyme.

When shopping for mushrooms, they should be firm and resilient to indentation. They should feel dry and smell earthy. Damp spots, mold, and funky (bad) smells are all no-no's. If you can pick individual peices out of a pile, keep in mind that the younger/smaller mushrooms, tend to last a little bit long, and maybe even taste a little bit better. To store them, a brown paper bag with a small hole torn is iedal. It regulates the moisture very well.

I'm starting with seven types, I like mix for a few reasons, you get little hints of all the different flavors, but the variety has the effect of balancing itself out. Also the cheaper mushrooms can compensate for the volume a little. This mix cost me under five dollars!

These mushrooms are as follows from top left: The common button mushroom, portobello, shitake,
bluefoot, chanterelle, cremini (which grows into a portobello) and a king oyster of roal trumpet.

I wipe all the mushrooms down with a damp paper towel to remove any grime. I'll also scoop the gills out of the portobello. The taste of the gills is fine but they can turn the whole mix black. Slicing them thinly is key to getting bang for your buck. It is the browning that really stands out in the end, So more surface area = more browning = yummier mushrooms. You may have noticed I didn't indicate the amount of oil and butter needed. It is because that will depend on the mushroom used. They have different absorption rates, so you'll have to use your own judgment. Just make sure there is enough fat present to brown well, if there isn't, the shrooms will simply burn.

In the simmering phase of this method, some of the browning will dissolve into the liquid, which is what we want, just don't fret if your mushrooms turn pale again.

To finish my pasta, I just drop in the noodles followed by an additional drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some grated parm.

I made "le stracci" for this dish, just cut squares of fresh pasta. One of my favorites, literally translated it means "rags".
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